Cast & Crew
By the mid-1880's, the Apache Indians of Eastern Arizona have been relegated to living in squalor either on reservations or by themselves in the desert hills. Among the latter group is John Russell, whom they call Hombre. As a child, he was separated from his white parents, carried off by Apaches, and raised as an Indian. Upon learning that he has inherited a boardinghouse, Russell decides to trade the property for a herd of horses. Once the transaction has been settled, he leaves town on the first stagecoach. Also aboard are his friend Henry Mendez, the driver; Jessie Brown, former manager of the boardinghouse; Indian agent Alexander Favor and his young wife, Audra; a bickering young married couple, Billy Lee and Doris Blake; and Cicero Grimes, an arrogant stranger. As soon as the coach is underway, Russell is forced to sit on top because of Favor's bigoted attitude. A short time later, the coach is stopped by four gunmen, all in the employ of Grimes, who have come to rob Favor of $12,000 he has embezzled from government funds intended for Indian beef contracts. As Grimes and his henchmen make off with the money, taking Audra along as a hostage, Russell grabs a rifle and kills two of the bandits, one of whom was carrying the sack of money. After retrieving the cash, Russell leads the group to refuge in an abandoned mine cabin. The next day the outlaws appear and offer to trade Audra for the money. Russell refuses and defends his decision by reminding the others that Audra stood by as her husband let the Indians starve on dog meat while he pocketed their beef money. But when Jessie attempts to take the money to Grimes, Russell goes in her place. Gunfighting breaks out, and, although all of the bandits are killed, Russell dies saving the lives of his companions.
Merrill C. Isbell
Harry A. Caplan
Harriet Frank Jr.
James Wong Howe
Walter M. Scott
Jack Martin Smith
Robert E. Smith
When we first meet John Russell, as the hero is called by white acquaintances, he's a rough-and-tumble Arizona horse dealer with long Apache-style hair and a ruddy complexion that could belong to either a natural-born Indian or a white person who lives and works outdoors in all seasons, as he does. Although the exact year of the story isn't specified, it's a time when the Old West is entering the modern age building the railroads that are squeezing stagecoach lines out of business. This poses new challenges for people like Russell who catch and train horses for a living.
In a stroke of bittersweet luck, Russell's father dies, and even though the old man hardly knew his son, he has left Russell the boarding house he owned in town. Russell promptly decides to sell the place for a herd of horses, which means caretaker Jessie Brown (Diane Cilento) and her handful of tenants will have to move. Before long, Russell is traveling to a new destination on the same stagecoach as Jessie, along with a squabbling young couple named Billy (Peter Lazer) and Doris (Margaret Blye), who lived in the rooming house, and haughty government official Alexander Favor (Fredric March) and Audra Favor (Barbara Rush), his equally snobbish wife. Also on board is mean-spirited Cicero Grimes (Richard Boone), who practically wears a sign announcing that he means nobody any good. Sure enough, much of the film centers on a lengthy standoff between the decent characters and Grimes's gang, which includes Jessie's boyfriend, Frank Braden (Cameron Mitchell), a sheriff who has turned to the dark side.
Ritt is often omitted from lists of great Hollywood auteurs, but his long directorial career - which started in 1950s television and continued until shortly before his death in 1990 - produced a number of minor classics, such as the labor-union drama Norma Rae (1979), which reoriented Sally Field's career in a new and serious direction, and the anti-racist boxing drama The Great White Hope (1970), which earned James Earl Jones his only Academy Award nomination. He directed Newman in no fewer than five movies, starting with The Long, Hot Summer in 1958, and critic Roger Ebert described him as "the key director in Paul Newman's career, shaping the way we and other directors were to see him." Ritt and Newman also shared a steady concern with social issues, such as the racial and class prejudices that simmer just below the suspenseful surface of Hombre. Adapted by Harriet Frank, Jr. and co-producer Irving Ravetch from Elmore Leonard's 1961 novel of the same name, Hombre was photographed by James Wong Howe, a highly gifted cinematographer who had the same attitude as Ritt when it came to expressing a personal vision in Hollywood movies. They both regarded filmmaking as a thoroughly cooperative enterprise in which all creative contributions feed into the finished product. The landscapes in Hombre are distinctive and memorable - rough, forbidding, exotic, beautiful, and sometimes all those things at once - but their impact can't be traced exclusively to Ritt or Howe, or to the location scouts or Mother Nature, for that matter. Like the best qualities in all good movies, everything from the story outline to the mountainsides owes its effect to the genius of the Hollywood system that gives it dramatic power on the screen.
Hombre has a topnotch cast, weakened only by the shortage of three-dimensional roles for Native Americans and Mexicans in a story that directly engages with those ethnicities. The film partly compensates for this lapse by way of Cilento's forceful performance, making Jessie the kind of strong, independent-minded woman too rarely found in Hollywood westerns. The other women of the story have less going for them - young Doris is relatively vulnerable, and pretentious while Audra is basically an empty shell - but Jessie is straightforward and refreshing whenever she appears.
The same goes for Newman, who creates a fully rounded character without a speck of heroic posturing or excess dialogue, making it clear and understandable why a person in Russell's position would violently defend an innocent Indian against a white bigot but not necessarily intercede in a quarrel between two mismatched white men. Boone makes a very scary villain, even though his long run as the good guy on TV's excellent Have Gun - Will Travel was only a few years behind him, and March ably conveys the shiftiness of the government agent with a secret. Among the other supporting players, Martin Balsam is warm but unsentimental as an old Mexican friend advising Russell to settle down in the white community, and Cameron Mitchell gives a quietly impressive performance as the sheriff who goes bad.
Hombre has been compared to John Ford's legendary Stagecoach (1939), and the comparison makes sense, partly because the films obviously involve stagecoaches and partly because they're both road movies where diverse characters are forced into confined situations that bring out the best and worst aspects of their personalities. Stagecoach is a greater achievement, but Hombre is a worthwhile runner-up, giving Newman and Ritt a smart and meaningful showcase when they were at the top of their game.
Director: Martin Ritt
Producers: Martin Ritt and Irving Ravetch
Screenplay: Irving Ravetch and Harriet Frank, Jr.; from the novel by Elmore Leonard
Cinematographer: James Wong Howe
Film Editing: Frank Bracht
Art Direction: Jack Martin Smith, Robert E. Smith
Music: David Rose
With: Paul Newman (John Russell), Fredric March (Favor), Richard Boone (Grimes), Diane Cilento (Jessie), Cameron Mitchell (Braden), Barbara Rush (Audra Favor), Peter Lazer (Billy Lee), Margaret Blye (Doris), Martin Balsam (Mendez), Skip Ward (Steve Early), Frank Silvera (Mexican Bandit), David Canary (Lamar Dean), Val Avery (Delgado), Larry Ward (Soldier)
by David Sterritt
Mister, you have got a lot of hard bark on you comin' down here like this. Now, you put two holes in me and I owe you.- Grimes
Two's usually enough for most.- John Russell
I wouldn't try anything because that Vaquero- Grimes
is more than a fair hand. Did you bring the money?- Grimes
Guess I brought my dirty laundry by mistake.- John Russell
Hey. I got a question. How are you planning to get back down that hill?- John Russell
Now you wait a minute! I'm getting back down the same way I came up! (Begins running back down the hill. Russell shoots him as he is running)- Grimes
Cicero Grimes, meet John Russell.- Jessie
And we got him a marble headstone. It had his name on it, and underneath, we had them put, "In the Fullness of His Years." Is that all right with you?- Jessie
I'll settle for that. I'm not on the slab.- John Russell
Well, what do you figure yours is going to read?- Jessie
"Shot Dead," probably.- John Russell
Don't people take to you, Mr. Russell?- Jessie
It only takes one who doesn't.- John Russell
You're just saying that so we won't go down there.- Doris Blake
They'll kill you both. That's why I'm saying it.- John Russell
I would like at least to know his name.- Mexican Bandit
He was called John Russell.- Henry Mendez
Location scenes filmed in the Coronado National Forest, Tucson, and other parts of Arizona.
Released in United States December 31, 1966
Released in United States Spring March 21, 1967
Released in USA on video.
Released in United States Spring March 21, 1967
Released in United States December 31, 1966 (New York City)